Ethiopia votes, with ruling party favoured to win

The vote is being closely watched by international observers.

Addis Ababa: Ethiopians began voting in national elections on Sunday, in a vote closely watched by international observers and by critics who say the US-allied ruling party has intimidated voters and challengers to secure an easy victory.

Opposition members and the ruling party`s critics say the poll will likely lead to a new decade of power for Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who seized control of the Horn of Africa country in a 1991 coup.

Meles` Ethiopian People`s Revolutionary Democratic Front denies it repressed its opponents and says candidates have been able to campaign freely. But opposition members say they have been harassed and two of their campaigners have been killed under mysterious circumstances.

Opposition leaders say they worry the election may turn into a repeat of 2005`s contentious poll, when about 100 opposition politicians and activists who challenged the results were arrested.

The opposition and some analysts also say the government has systematically stifled the competition since 2005 and ensured an uneventful election by enacting restrictive laws that restrict aid groups from working on human rights issues and hinder the media.